Friday, November 14, 2014

LDS Church's "big announcement" on polygamy is old news.

I keep seeing Facebook posts and news articles about the new essay on early 19th century Mormon polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo. These news sources generally suggest that the church's essay is some big wow moment, a grand historic confession. But it wasn't a flashy PR move, it's not even a mormonnewsroom public statement, it's just one of many encyclopedic articles the church gradually adds to it's gospel topics summaries on It's also ironic to me that this is viewed as a big announcement, because BYU history professors and other significant Mormon historians have published works about Joseph Smith's many wives and the associated controversies for several decades. The church never denied or opposed the history, rather they simply didn't have it posted on, because it has only been in last couple of years that the church has even started adding controversial or historical explanatory essays to their articles, which were originally intended to be simple summaries of basic doctrinal topics. Over the last 4 years, I've immersed myself in the study of early LDS Church history, especially that of polygamy, and can say with confidence that all the issues discussed in that article were things I've known about for quite some time.

The Church has certainly been a little shy about broadcasting anything controversial on the internet, but it never hid the information, in fact, most of the primary resources, the journal entries, letters, sermons, and marriage records that hold the historical foundation for this supposedly "new" information have always been available to the public at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and the church-owned Harold B. Lee Library on BYU campus in Provo. Additionally, the secondary sources cited in the Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo article are historical books and scholarly articles published in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. It's not news, people.

 I want to add how much I love this history. Sometimes learning about the oddities in the history of my faith is confusing and worrisome. But I chose to dive in with resilience and determination to comprehend the heart of it. The more I prayerfully read respectable historical books on polygamy, the more the Lord opens my spiritual eyes and helps me understand the whys and the hows. Studying the Church's complicated history has been a wonderful opportunity for me to experience doubt, anxiety, and fear--and to come through with faith stronger than ever.

My faith has been strengthened, not because the history makes perfect logical sense (history is inevitably riddled with loose ends), but because of the spiritual experiences and feelings I've had in my heart as I study this topic. That said, many of the historical works I've read have made the issues much less confusing in my mind. That's why I want to recommend a few of my favorite books on polygamy by serious historians:

More Wives than One by Kathryn M. Daynes (Here's my 2012 review of the book)

In Sacred Loneliness the Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton, and

The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, ed. by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher


  1. That's great for you that you're ok wtih Joseph Smith coercing a 14 year old girl to marry him for the sake of her family's salvation, but a LOT of people don't know about that and are not ok with it when they find out. A lot of people don't know that he married women who were already married to other men either. And don't forget Joseph Smith had a printing press destoryed because it published these very things about him, which ultimatly led to his death. Maybe you grew up in Utah with the legacy of polygamy all around you so it's not so shocking to you, and you even said that you immersed yourself in studying church history for 4 years. It would make sense that you knew about these things then. But what about the average Mormon who isn't big into history? They aren't just going to be told these things. You really have to search it out. As another example, I had NO IDEA that Joseph Smith used a rock and a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. All the pictures you see in the church and church puplications show something quite different. Why would I ever doubt the paintings the church puts out to depict it's history? Why have they used language in lessons to imply that Joseph Smith, and even Brigham Young, only had one wife? And what about all the members who don't speak English? How are they going to find out about these things? The essays are not even published in different languages (as far as I know) so those people just get to stay blissfully ignorant of all these issues. It's very condecending to say, "Well I knew about these things so they shouldn't be news to anyone." That is just not the case. I feel like the church is putting all these essays out as a way to innoculate the members. And so that they can say, "Well, the church is ok with this stuff so I guess it's ok." It's not ok. It wasn't ok back then and it's not ok now, and I don't appreciate all the lying that has gone on in the church that is supposed to be all about "truth."

    Some other great books to read are: Mormon Enigma by Linda King Newell

    and An Insiders Guide to Mormon Origins by Grand Palmer

  2. Karen, I want to respond to your article, but I can't get over the juxtaposition between that and the comment below it, which seems to be written by someone who feels led astray by church art! On that topic, I have a hunch that Adam and Eve didn't have access to combs and didn't look nearly as presentable as our go-to Adam and Eve picture portrays them. I for one would REALLY like to see some less idealized artwork in the church, but I guess that's not the subject at hand.

    Milk before meat, in the scriptures and in the gospel. If people don't want to learn the basics (love one another, faith, repentance, baptism, etc) then there's not much point for them in studying the more trivial things (ie church history). I think if members are content to just show up to Sunday School and have that be their main source of gospel knowledge, that's okay! And they probably won't learn all the details of the lives of the prophets that way, and that's okay too! I don't think it's the job of Gospel Doctrine classes to teach anything but the basics; there are plenty of resources for people who want to go deep into comparing bible translations or study church history on their own time.

    I have been in gospel doctrine classes where Joseph Smith practicing polygamy was SPECIFICALLY taught by the teacher. I have also been in classes (most of them) where it never happens to come up. I don't think it needs to come up. Anyone who wants to know can easily find out; like you said, it’s not something hidden. Just because something is not advertised doesn’t mean it is concealed. I’m with you that this isn’t the expose some people are wishing it to be.

  3. Many condemn Joseph Smith, The Prophet for what he did and if you're a "Christian" you would come to understand that there have been many prophets in the past that were far from perfect based off looking at comments above. If we look at King David he was an adulterer, and murderer, Jonah who tried to run from his responsibility, or what about Samuel the boy prophet, the youngest of them all. We tend to forget that men have flaws and the only man who is "PERFECT" is our Savior himself.   People get deceived by the misconception... Members of the LDS church are advised from nursery (18 mos ), primary, youth, and even as an adult to this day to study, ponder, and pray about these things constantly-religion has a lot to cover. I try to wrap that around my head about a 14 year old with below level education to do what Joseph Smith did with the The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ- When you read it, it holds a lot of information and for him to make that up.... You have witnesses who saw the plates that got excommunicated and in their death bed still stuck to their testimonies. Polygamy was practiced in the Biblical times and was practiced in the beginning of times of the church... I, as a member have accepted it-has it shaken my testimony, No. Than people mention Emma Smith, funny how RLDS practices polygamy to this day... What Joseph Smith did was great and knew from the beginning that his name would be spoken both good and evil but knew his purpose. Only the great can do something like that as did Jesus Christ did!